Tottenham Hotspur kept up the pressure on the clubs at the top of the Premier League table on Saturday, grinding out a 1-0 win over West Ham United at the London Stadium. Moussa Sissoko put a ball on a plate for Erik Lamela to head home, and Spurs hung on in the second half to grind out the away win, putting them in a tie for second place with Chelsea with 21 points, two behind Manchester City.
Christian Eriksen was back in Tottenham’s squad for the first time in a few weeks, but he started the match on Mauricio Pochettino’s bench, along with recent returnees Serge Aurier and Mousa Dembele. Erik Lamela came into the side in Eriksen’s place, making his first Premier League start of the season. Eric Dier, Harry Winks, and Moussa Sissoko comprised Spurs’ midfield. It was the expected defense with Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez in the center of defense, flanked by Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies.
Both teams came out in 4-3-3ish formations, though Spurs’ operated more like a 4-3-2-1 with Lucas and Lamela behind Kane. As per usual, Spurs had the bulk of the possession in the first half but with relatively few real chances on goal.
Erik Lamlea got the first sniff in the 7th minute. Harry Kane, who was dropping deep in possession in the early minutes, sprung a sprinting Lamela on the left side with a diagonal ball. No Spurs players made a run into the box for a cross, and Lamela’s shot unfortunately hit side netting.
It was a mostly even affair in the first half. Spurs spent much of the opening period trying to find seams in the defense and hit on the break, but West Ham defended well. The Hammers had the early edge in set pieces, but despite a few corners and free kicks never really troubled Hugo Lloris in goal.
Kane had another opportunity on the breakaway a half-hour into the match, but his strong shot was blocked by Balbuena who slid in nicely to prevent the chance.
West Ham’s opportunities were few — Marko Arnautovic had West Ham’s best look, but his early shot on goal went straight at Hugo Lloris. Snodgrass had another opportunity late in the half, but his shot from the top of the box was blocked away by Toby Alderweireld.
The Hammers had an unfortunate injury setback on the ensuing corner kick after Andriy Yarmolenko picked up what looked like an Achilles tendon injury. He was stretchered off and replaced by 20-year old Grady Diangana.
The breakthrough for Spurs came just before halftime, and it came thanks to (of all people) Moussa Sissoko. Playing in the center of midfield, Sissoko recieved the ball on the right side of the box, wrong-footed a defender and lofted a cross to the head of Erik Lamela, who fired past Lukas Fabianski.
Sissoko and Lamela nearly doubled Spurs’ lead in injury time of the first half — Lamela had a shot blocked by Fabianski, and Sissoko’s close range blast was again parried away by the West Ham keeper.
Sissoko and Lamela were the two best players on the pitch in the first half, and Spurs took a deserved one goal lead into halftime.
The second half was markedly different from the first as West Ham tried to ramp up the pressure and force an equalizing goal, and for the most part they kept Spurs on their back heels.
The Hammers’ first chance came just two minutes into the half, forcing a scramble in Spurs’ box which Tottenham failed to clear properly. That led to Arnautovic lofting a header to the top corner that Hugo managed to just tip over the bar.
Lucas Moura had a dangerous moment midway through the half. While trying to dribble around match official Martin Atkinson in midfield, Lucas had his ankle stepped on by Robert Snodgrass, which required treatment. Atkinson declined to show a card despite clear cleat marks on Lucas’ ankle, but Lucas was not seriously hurt and was eventually able to rejoin the match.
West Ham were clearly the better side in the second half as they tried to pressure Spurs’ midfield three of Dier, WInks, and Sissoko. Lloris made another nice save on an Arnautovic shot in the 60th minute, and West Ham started turning the screws, sensing an advantage.
This being a London derby, things started to get chippy. Sanchez, already with a torn jersey from grappling with West Ham in and around the box, found himself in a confrontation with Arnautovic, complete with shoving and shirt-pulling. The West Ham striker continued to target Sanchez for the rest of the match, though Davinson did well to keep a cool head for the most part. He even had a decent header off a set piece, but was flagged for offside.
Both clubs made substitutions late — West Ham brought on Michail Antonio for Mark Noble, while Spurs eventually brought on Mousa Dembele and Fernando Llorente for Lamela and Kane, who had a very quiet half.
West Ham thought they had their equalizer in the 85th minute, but Arnautovic’s goal was waved off when he received the ball two yards offside.
Spurs spent the last 15 minutes of the match sitting deep and absorbing pressure, trying to protect their slim one goal lead. They managed, thanks to some good defending from Alderweireld and Sanchez. Christian Eriksen made a brief cameo appearance coming on for Sissoko in injury time, his first action in a month, and Hugo went low to deny Arnautovic again at the death to preserve the win.
The final score was 1-0.
- I wasn’t certain I would ever type these words, but Moussa Sissoko was Tottenham’s best player in the first half. Dangerous in possession (in a good way!), an assist, and nearly had one himself. Regressed in the second half when West Ham started to press the midfield, but on balance, a pretty good match. Overall — he was fine!
- Erik Lamela was probably Spurs’ best player today — good pace, use of space, and passing. Had one goal, could’ve had two. Let’s play him more.
- Lucas Moura showed moments of real danger and creativity, torching West Ham on a number of occasions with his pace and dribbling. His actions didn’t usually lead to clear cut scoring chances, but you could see what he was trying to do.
- Big game from Hugo, who had two saves on Arnautovic and preserved the win late. He’s back!
- Spurs looked pretty good in the first half but regressed in the second as West Ham tried to ratchet up the intensity. Not a lot of creativity or service to Harry Kane, and very few chances created.
- Kane was anonymous in the second half but got very little service with Eriksen on the bench. West Ham didn’t leave much space for Kane to create his own shot.
- Spurs’ midfield continues to be an issue. Dier was fine, but while Winks showed a few glimpses of good play, he mostly alternated between invisible and profligate for much of the match. A real mixed bag in midfield for Winksy.
- Pochettino’s substitutions continue to baffle. Dembele is fine, but strange to sub him on for Lamela especially so late in the match, and Llorente for Kane is weird. It’s like Poch were trying to grind out a win over a better team... but it was West Ham. Eriksen as a victory cigar is fine, but a two minute cameo doesn’t tell us too much.
- In the end: once again, a meh performance but a win’s a win, and they did it at West Ham without Jan Vertonghen, Son Heung-Min, Christian Eriksen (mostly) and Dele Alli.
- Spurs aren’t doing it pretty, but they ARE doing it. 21 points from 9 matches — it’s Spurs’ best start to the Premier League ever, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Can’t complain.